Saturday, January 07, 2006

Rahul Dravid: too

Let us now leave aside the organisational worries of Rahul Dravid and analyse Dravid the batsman in a larger context: his claim to the ‘world’s best batsman’ spot.
In his recent piece for The Courier Mail, Jon Pierik nominates Ponting as the best batsman in the world based on his recent form at the toughest batting position, no. 3. Not many can grudge Pierik his views on the Australian all-time great or debate the uncertainties associated with batting one-down. Some impressive career stats on the phenomenal consistency and all-conquering nature of Ponting’s form were quite awe-inspiring. The sole non-negotiable disappointment, however, regarding the point-wise comparison of Ponting with other greats in that story was the glaring absence of Rahul Dravid in the piece.
A look at Rahul’s career summary in tests showcases his gems one by one in a familiar manner reminiscent of Dravid’s varied skills embellishing themselves over a typical long innings. To borrow Pierik’s words, any doubters who believe that Dravid should not be in contention for the top batsman’s slot should try a potion of these for a gulp:
Dravid averages 61 at no. 3 (to Ponting’s 64 prior to the Sydney test) having played 121 innings (20 more than Ponting) there.Dravid’s lowest average against any team is a near-40 against South Africa. Better still, Dravid doesn’t average less than 40 in any of the lands he has visited.
Moreover Ponting’s career average falls marginally below 50 while playing away from home, tellingly unlike Rahul whose bat gets broader when the going gets tough (which it invariably does when India tours). The new Indian skipper averages 63 in away matches, no less.
Want some more? Dravid doesn’t have world’s best opening duo coming ahead of him (Remember how Ponting’s performance suffered when Langer-Hayden stopped normal services during these Ashes?) Nor does the Indian captain have any reason yet to shout from his Bangalore rooftop that one of these days a handy 5-down of his in the form of Parthiv/ Dhoni / Karthik is going to displace Gilchrist as an automatic selection in any “greatest ever XI” after the Don.
To top it all Rahul is armed with a last word quite equivalent to the one that did Viv’s claims to being the world’s greatest bat more harm than that last straw did to the proverbial camel’s back. Ricky Ponting never played the best team in the world in his entire career!
Mention must be made of a last bit of info regarding the importance of Rahul Dravid. After an eternity – perhaps ‘since his debut’ would be more accurate - India had to field a team without Rahul Dravid in Ahmedabad a few weeks back. It might only be a coincidence but in both innings of the match Team India failed to get on the right side of 100 without losing 5 wickets. The last time this happened was in the second test in NZ of that seamers-take-all series preceding the 2003 world Cup. And I cannot recall any match other than this above-referred Ahmedabad peculiarity from the recent past that saw such a double-ignominy being inflicted on the top order of this team on Indian soil.
To contrast that Dravid-less collapse with Australia’s ‘final frontier’ series win in India during Ponting’s absence last season would be an insult to the latter’s contribution to the World champion team, but the hammer would not be too far from the nail-head if it be said that Ponting is somewhat less valuable to the best team in the world than Dravid is to the best top order in the world.
Now we have probably had enough of that. Rahul has his shortcomings too. He is yet to prove that the crown rests easy on him. He averages 22 as skipper - the lowest average that any grouping of his stupendous international career data has returned barring his abysmal opening stints and the ICC Super test! In any case, the Rahul of last 15 months was a much more manageable player to the opposition than the Ponting of the last couple of years.
No one grudges Ponting’s current form and supremacy as a batsman. But it does look a tad unfair when a genuine great is denied mention as if he did not exist on the face of planet cricket.
PS: The Indian lower order however did an equally unprecedented job in that strange match at Motera in Dec 2005. Their first innings heroics are highlighted here, and then they added over 200 splendid runs after the fall of 5th wicket in the 2nd essay as well to make it a half-thousand for the lower half in that topsy-turvy Test! That just reminds me of something quite the ‘reverse’; promise to come back with that 1992 voodoo from the two W’s before the Indo-Pak first Test!

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